The Spleen Meridian: Don’t Worry, Be Happy.
This is the second article of a 5-part series on how to apply the practice of Yin Yoga to our meridians to harmonize our body and mind. We discussed the Liver meridian in our previous article, this week we will focus on the Spleen meridian.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory uses the names of the organs to help illustrate a pattern of related physical and emotional aspects in the body. When a Chinese Medical doctor says you have a “spleen” issue, he/she is referring to the “spleen system” or the spleen’s orb of influence. This system relates to the physical spleen organ, the Spleen meridian, and the spleen related functions based on the TCM perspective. When we practice Yin Yoga, it is helpful to know that the poses which simulate the Spleen meridian are not, in particular, targeting the Spleen organ itself, but rather, it is in overall harmonizing the Spleen system thus optimizing your holistic well-being.
All of the organ systems in TCM are discussed in terms of yin and yang pairings, the yin organs are solid/full while the yang organs are hollow/empty. As the liver is paired with the gallbladder, the heart with the small intestine, and the kidneys with the urinary bladder, the spleen is paired with the stomach. The spleen rules all digestion in the TCM view including the stomach organ its yang pair.
For instance, one of the most common TCM patterns of imbalance seen in the West is called Spleen Qi Deficiency. This pattern can arise from various reasons including poor diet, irregular eating patterns and stress. Spleen Qi Deficiency involves symptoms such as poor appetite, bloating (especially after eating), weakness of the arms and legs, fatigue and loose stool. This is just one of many examples of Spleen system patterns. Nevertheless, we can see how the stomach and digestion are interlinked with the Spleen. By practicing specific yin poses, we can alleviate some of the discomforts caused by the disruptions in both the spleen and the stomach.
The Spleen meridian starts at the lateral side of the big toe, runs along the medial side of the foot crossing the inner ankle. It then travels along the medial side of the lower leg and thighs reaching the pubic bone. Once it enters the abdominal cavity, it connects with the spleen and continues upward to the Heart meridian. Externally, the Spleen meridian continues moving toward the chest and branches out to reach the throat and the tongue.
The Stomach meridian begins just under the eye. It travels up and then down the face, chest, abdomen, and the leg, ending on the second toe. Internally, the Stomach meridian connects with the stomach and spleen.
The Spleen meridian represents the Earth element. Its prenatal virtues include faith, honesty, openness, acceptance, and truthfulness. Interestingly, according to the Daoist view, our intention and ideas (known as Yi) are stored in the spleen. The postnatal emotions associated with the Spleen include worrying, remorse, regret, obsessiveness, self-doubt, self-centeredness, and suspicion.
Yin Poses for the Spleen meridian:
Yin poses that help restore Spleen/Stomach imbalances are those that target the inner legs, anterolateral side of the legs, abdominals and chest area. The following poses are easy to do and accessible to everyone. When you practice them, hold each posture for 3-5 minutes and rest for 1 minute in any desirable resting positions such as on your belly, Child’s Pose or Corpse Pose (Shavasana) after each.
How to get into the pose:
Start on your hands and knees or in Downward Facing Dog. Step one foot between your hands. Walk the front foot forward until the knee is at 90° above the ankle. Slide the back knee backward as far as you can. You may keep your hands on either side of the front foot, on your knees or a block.
The back knee can get very uncomfortable, if so, place a blanket under it or double fold your yoga mat providing your knee a softer surface.
The Camel pose offers a deep opening in the sacral/lumbar spine and the top of the thighs. It also stretches the hip flexors and opens the shoulders; excellent for people who need to sit for a long time working on the computer.
Getting into the pose:
Simply sit on your heels, place your hands behind you on your heels, and lift your hips forward. As the hips move forward, your back will arch naturally.
This pose can be quite challenging if you have a weak back or tender knees. In this case, you may start by standing on your knees and support the low back. Keep the hands on your low back as you arch backward.
Another option is to start on your knees, place your hands on the floor and push your pelvis upward. This option creates less arching in the spine than the full pose thus more accessible to most people. If your neck is healthy, you may lengthen it and allow the head to drop back. If not, keep the neck straight and hold your head up.
3. Swan/Sleeping Swan
The Swan/Sleeping Swan provides the quadriceps and hip flexors a nice stretch in the back leg and a deep external rotation in the front hip.
Getting into the pose:
Come into the pose in Downward Facing Dog or from hands/knees. Slide your right knee between your hands while you lean slightly to the right. Make sure your right knee feels fine. To increase the intensity, walk the right foot forward keeping the foot flexed. If the sensation in the knee is too much, walk the right foot closer toward the right hip. You can also slide the back knee back, do this until your right buttock is on the floor or as low as it can get.
An alternative option is to place a block or bolster under the right buttock. The extra height helps elevate the hips thus lighten up the load in the front hip socket.